Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mountain Rides, Bellevue clash on transit center

Bus organization looking to Hailey now for $1 million project

Express Staff Writer

Mountain Rides Transportation Authority and the owner of property that the organization wanted to buy for a South Valley Transportation Center in Bellevue abandoned the idea after deciding that further dealings with the city on the issue were futile.

“We anticipate that this project will not be approved,” Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller stated in a memo to the organization’s board of directors on Dec. 19, when the decision was announced that Mountain Rides would look to Hailey and not Bellevue for a site.

Property owner Gannett 75 LLC issued the following written statement Friday to the Idaho Mountain Express:

“The owner is seriously disappointed at the Bellevue city government’s short-sightedness. Comments from the staff convinced us that pursuing this was going to be a waste of time and a dead end.”

The decision to scratch the proposal to build the transportation center on a 2.97-acre parcel near the intersection of state Highway 75 and Gannett Road came after a Dec. 6 determination by the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission to not change language in the city’s zoning ordinance to allow the property to become a transportation center. Bellevue officials said then that the property will be of more benefit to the city if is used for commercial retail purposes rather than by a nonprofit organization such as Mountain Rides.

Bellevue Mayor Chris Koch on Friday defended the P&Z’s determination, but said he was disappointed that Mountain Rides is not considering an alternative location in the town.

“I would assume they wanted to take their ball and go home,” Koch said. “I’m a little disappointed that they made this decision. I think it was a hasty decision by the board.”

Mountain Rides board Chair Peter Everett said the organization earlier considered several other sites in Bellevue but none of them were satisfactory.

“As far as I can tell, there were not other viable sites and we were really high on this one,” Everett said. “I love that site, so if they could return it to us we would jump on it. We would close the deal today. We’ve got the money in the bank.”


Transportation center

Mountain Rides has been working toward establishing a South Valley Transportation Center for the last four years. If built, the center would provide inside storage for Mountain Rides Valley Route buses that begin their routes in Bellevue and carry commuters north through Hailey and into Ketchum and Sun Valley. The center would also provide a bus maintenance shop, a waiting area for passengers and a park-and-ride lot.

Mountain Rides has $1 million set aside to buy property and develop the center, with $800,000 from a grant from the Federal Transit Administration and $200,000 in local matching funds. Miller said at a Dec. 19 Mountain Rides board meeting that the organization can likely retain the grant money, but that the issue would require discussions with the Federal Transit Administration and the Idaho Transportation Department, which administers the federal funds.

Mountain Rides offered in September to buy the Bellevue property, which includes a 4,480-square-foot, two-story building, for $780,000 from Gannett 75 LLC. The property owner agreed to the price, but the deal was contingent upon approval from the city of Bellevue to allow the property to be used as a transportation center.

The property was previously used by All Seasons Landscaping, which about two years ago moved its operation to Anderson Drive about three miles south of Bellevue.

Nonetheless, Koch said the city still considers the site prime real estate for a commercial operation.

“It’s not doing anything right now, but with an upturn in the economy something could come in,” he said, noting that the site would be ideal for an automobile dealership or another landscaping company.

Ketchum real estate agent Paul Kenny, representing Gannett 75 LLC, said Friday that the city of Bellevue wants to tie up the property for something that may not happen.

“They’re saying, ‘What if a big development comes in there, then we’ll see lots of property tax revenue,’” Kenny said. “But then again, what if it doesn’t?”

Kenny agreed with the Mountain Rides assessment that purchase of the property for the South Valley Transportation Center is likely a dead deal, noting that the city of Bellevue seems unwilling to bend on the issue. Further, he said there’s probably no point in asking the City Council to overrule the P&Z.

“The city’s pretty much discouraged us from doing it,” he said, noting that the property owner doesn’t want to further pursue the matter. “If he was convinced that they could make it work, he’d be all for it, not just for the sale but because he thought it was a good use for the property.”

Professional land planner John Gaeddert, hired by Gannett 75 LLC to work with the city on the proposed zoning change, said he was surprised when the proposal met opposition.

“From a land planner’s perspective, I thought it was a fantastic use for the property,” Gaeddert said. “Frankly, I thought it complies with the vision the city has for the area with its comprehensive plan.”

Gaeddert said the city didn’t altogether slam the door on the proposal, but instead informed him that he’d have to reapply to formally amend the city’s zoning ordinance rather than just seek a language change as was requested in the original application.

“What I found out is the city of Hailey has reached out to Mountain Rides, saying we want this, and we definitely didn’t get that impression for the city of Bellevue’s Planning and Zoning Commission,” Gaeddert said.


Public support

Mountain Rides had marshaled significant public support for the proposal, though public sentiment seemed adamantly against the idea at a Dec. 6 public hearing when the P&Z unanimously made its ruling.

“It is business developments that sustain the city,” Bellevue resident Marilyn Plott said at the hearing. “Bellevue is no longer a giveaway city. Mountain Rides is not a business use, but is a public service agency, funded by federal, state and local funding sources and subsidies.”

Bellevue residents opposed to the proposal further argued that the Mountain Rides proposal would remove the property from city tax rolls.

On the other hand, 34 Bellevue residents supported the Mountain Rides proposal in petitions submitted to the city.

Letters of support were also submitted from by the Blaine County Housing Authority, The Hunger Coalition, the Blaine County commissioners, the Blaine County Recreation District, the city of Ketchum,  SustainBlaine and the Community Transportation Association of Idaho.

Terry Smith:

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